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GOP power brokers ousted Greer but weren't queried by investigators

TALLAHASSEE — Jim Greer and Delmar Johnson called them "the four horsemen."

The sobriquet referred to a band of powerful Republican politicians who earlier this year played an integral role in the ouster of Greer and Johnson from the helm of the Republican Party of Florida: Attorney General Bill McCollum, future House leader Dean Cannon, future Senate leader Mike Haridopolos and current party chairman John Thrasher.

The names appear numerous times in a criminal investigation that led to the June indictment of Greer but the four GOP officials were never questioned, according to evidence released this week.

The omission prompted renewed questions Wednesday about the limited scope of the investigation and the role of McCollum, the state's top legal officer who is running for governor.

"His backroom deal mentality is out of step with voters who are demanding accountability and openness," said Rick Scott, McCollum's GOP challenger, who also echoed Democrats' calls dating to February for an independent investigation.

The initial evidence also shows investigators are not focusing on Greer's secret severance agreement signed by the top GOP leaders.

Greer's attorneys contend party leaders need to answer questions and that they initiated the investigation in order to keep from paying the $124,000 golden parachute.

"There is nobody whose name you can recognize that is immune from being in my crosshairs," said Cheney Mason, Greer's criminal attorney.

Greer faces six counts of grand theft, money laundering and organized fraud for a scheme in which he funneled $200,000 of party donations to a shell company he secretly owned.

McCollum takes criticism for his ties to the investigation and to Greer, who served on his campaign team and helped pave the way for his candidacy.

In his official capacity, McCollum oversees the investigating agency and appointed the prosecutor who charged Greer.

A spokeswoman for McCollum confirmed he has not been interviewed and said he is "willing to do whatever is necessary to see justice served." The state party came to his defense and called any attacks on him "disingenuous."

Statewide prosecutor Bill Shepherd said he could not discuss an ongoing investigation.

McCollum, who helped drive the effort to remove Greer, initially resisted calls for an inquiry but months later referred new information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to launch an inquiry.

His involvement is detailed at numerous points in the investigative reports released late Tuesday.

On a secretly recorded phone call between Greer and Johnson, who is cooperating with investigators to avoid jail time, Johnson said: "I think McCollum played a much bigger role behind the scenes than we realize."

Allen Cox, the party's former vice chairman, told authorities that he showed McCollum the secret fundraising contract at the center of the investigation in January, making him the first GOP leader to see it.

The agreement allowed Greer and Johnson to steer a portion of party donations to a company they owned called Victory Strategies.

Democratic rival Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer who is running for governor, said McCollum's role is "a clear conflict of interest and it shows a lack of a moral compass that we need in our attorney general."

Cannon and Haridopolos, the future legislative leaders who asked Greer to resign, did not return calls for comment about what they knew and whether they were questioned as a part of the investigation. Thrasher, a state senator and party chairman, said investigators never called him. "I had no firsthand knowledge," he said. "I learned of everything after the fact."

The investigative reports and the recorded telephone call note the leaders' involvement in pulling the strings to get Greer to resign and the secret severance deal, which the party now contends is not valid. A civil lawsuit on the matter is still pending.

"Let me ask you this question," Greer said to Johnson in the recorded call. "Do you think they are using (the severance) as a blackmail mechanism for me not to pursue it and then they supposedly won't pursue other stuff?"

"I could see them saying … we'll just call it even," Johnson replied. "But that's just all speculation. I've never claimed to know how these folks think."

The missing elements in the investigation are likely to become a weakness for prosecutors if the case gets to trial, legal experts said.

"Who you talk to and the information you access … is going to have a direct impact on the result of the investigation," said lawyer J. Larry Hart, a former state and federal prosecutor not affiliated with the case. "It might be politics, but it's flawed from the outset if it is less than a full, fair and complete investigation."

Reach John Frank at jfrank@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

GOP power brokers ousted Greer but weren't queried by investigators 06/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 10:20am]
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